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Just How Much Do Shows Like Game Of Thrones Owe To Piracy?

from the more-than-they-like-to-admit,-I-suspect dept

The HBO show Game of Thrones has become something of a symbol for TV piracy as a response to lack of availability, ever since it was used as an example in a comic by Matthew Inman (which was then reprised as a post by MG Siegler, minus the jokes). This is probably because it's ridiculously addictive (once you start watching, there's no way you're going to stop before someone stabs that Joffrey kid). This month the second season began, and after all the criticisms of their distribution scheme, HBO accidentally threw frustrated online viewers a bone by leaking the second episode nearly a week ahead of schedule—someone working on the Dutch edition of HBO Go must have accidentally flipped a switch, and winter came early. But before that happened, the season premier aired to a massive ratings jump, which most people anticipated. Why? Because, they reasoned, the nine-month gap between seasons gave new viewers a chance to catch up with (and get hooked on) the series by watching season one on HBO On Demand and HBO Go.

It's a good theory, but only some are prepared to mention the elephant in the room: plenty of people (quite possibly the majority) caught up through unauthorized streams and torrents, just like Matthew Inman. And that brings us to the bigger elephant lurking in the whole house: how much has piracy contributed to the rise of HBO-style television? Would we have complex, high-concept, critically acclaimed shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones without it? Many people attribute this fundamental shift in the nature of popular television, from episodic towards serialized, to DVDs and legitimate digital sources—but I'd wager that piracy is a much more significant factor.

There are two main reasons. Firstly, the ability to watch any episode any time makes such can't-miss-an-episode shows less of a commitment. This, alone, is the single biggest contributing factor to the popularity of heavily serialized television, and it is impossible to explain it entirely with DVDs and sources like iTunes. Many cable subscribers turn to piracy as a way to catch missed episodes, and that safety net prevents serialized shows from alienating viewers and losing momentum. Secondly, unauthorized sources are especially popular with the fanatics—the people who evangelize "must watch" shows to their friends and coworkers, and who create memes with screencaps to spread on Tumblr and Facebook. That's not to mention the amateur critics and TV bloggers who generate buzz (in fact, there is a bit of a back and forth going on over the ethics of piracy in the critic community).

Of course, as digital offerings get better, more and more of this kind of activity happens through legitimate channels instead of piracy (not like anyone's been saying that all along, or anything). But services like Netflix got to the table once the serial television trend was in full-swing, so they don't account for its inception. Some people fear that television piracy will put at end to such ambitious undertakings in the medium—but they should stop to consider the hand it played in making them possible to begin with.

Filed Under: game of thrones, leak, piracy, television
Companies: hbo, netflix


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Apr 2012 @ 5:55am

    Re: Wrong-- It's the paywall

    Walking dead was on amc's website last year for the first episode. I watched it myself and then had to pirate it to show my gf when they stopped showing it there. Guess what happened? Oh noes! I bought all the comics! And the dvd!

    Mad Men I started pirating 3 years after it started, and we got about halfway through the first season. Guess what happened? Oh noes! We bought *all 4 seasons* on dvd. Now in its 5th season, we pirate those and will buy the dvd when its released.

    Breaking bad we've started pirating late, too. We've done that for all the seasons. When the dvds aren't priced to rape us, we'll buy them to.

    And so on with Game of thrones, and True blood.

    House, I pirate any episodes that aren't on hulu and watch the rest on hulu. I borrowed season 5 and 6 from a friend at work though. I might buy these, depends on how the show ends.

    Fringe I mostly watch pirated so I can watch it at work on my phone, but when this show wraps I will probably buy the box set.

    Twin peaks, I downloaded a crappy 320x240 version of season 2 about 10 years ago, since there was no season 2 dvd. (I already owned the 1st season dvds). I bought the 2nd season the moment I saw it on Amazon.

    So, what were you saying? In my experience, piracy is a driver of sales. After all, piracy made these sales possible. HBO On Demand and HBO Go do nothin to reduce piracy. Those idiots require you to have a subscription to HBO, which requires cable service. Fuck that old man. So no, I don't dutifully subscribe to hbo, but I do buy the dvds when they come out.

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